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Sharing a COVID dinner - and wine

"We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink." Epicurus

I live in a very privileged environment, a rural, very middle-class, outer Melbourne suburb populated mostly by prosperous, highly educated, humane and sociable people. Eltham has a very communal feel to it, and our little bit of it even more so. Our road is a circle, an unmade road passing by large blocks of land. If you count the house on the corner which is technically in the next street, there are just 11 houses in all.

Thanks to an ex resident, now living elsewhere in Eltham, but still part of this little community, a book group was begun over a decade ago. This moved us from waving amiably at each other as we passed to actually getting to know each other.

So much so that now each month there is a book group meeting and a wine group meeting - on the same night. The wine group is larger, and the book group is exclusively female, although I have never really understood why this should be so of book groups, since men are supposedly either in category 1 of human beings - those who talk about ideas, or category 3 - things. Women supposedly talk about people. Which is all very sexist I think, because, I suspect the wine group - mostly masculine - most likely spend time gossiping. For the wine group is really just a social night out with the price of entry being a bottle of wine. Normally I do not think there is much erudite discussion of the wines, nor are there themes or lessons about wine - just occasionally. Mostly it's just a monthly get together. With food of the substantial snacks kind and wine. And at Christmas there is a party for both groups.

But I ramble. Due to our COVID lockdown the wine group has been unable to function mostly - the group is too large to handle via Zoom very easily, and even outside there are too many to meet. The book club, being smaller, Zooms. Since June the 'leadership' of the wine group has been in the hands of one of our 'newer' neighbours, and this month he proposed an innovation - a Wild Cherry (the name of our street) Wine Club KK night. KK I assume stands for Kris Kringle. For the idea was to hand in a bottle of wine - it's always red - as I said they are mostly men - to our leader, and he would distribute them, one per household, to the participants. With your bottle in hand you would devise a menu to go with it which would be consumed and reported on after the event - which was last week. A $50 voucher for Mount Macedon Winery will be given to the winner - yes there is even a winner. The vineyard will decide. Yesterday we all received the report. It was so wonderful - to me anyway - that I just had to report on it.

Alas for some reason David decided not to participate and since he seemed firmly resolved on this at the time, I did not demur. But I should have, and I think he thinks so too now. For it looks to have been a wonderful thing.

I have to say I have not asked permission of the participants to report on this, but I don't think they will mind and names are not really given - or photos displayed. It just seemed to be such a wonderful example of how COVID has made people think outside of the box, and how it has, ironically, considering our long lockdown, brought us all together. Indeed one set of the participants are very new neighbours - a month perhaps, and most of us have not yet met them in person of course. It would have been a wonderful introduction to a new neighbourhood.

The report included some photos and some menus. Some fancy, some just in an email. But it was wonderful to see how everyone had tried to do something special, even if in fact it wasn't special - in the sense that the meal may well have been concocted from what was in the fridge. Below are the 'fancy' menus - in the sense that a printed menu was made:

Now there will be some who think that this is all very poncey and over the top, but I suspect that some of the menus are written in a very tongue-in-cheek way. I mean it's a fun thing to do isn't it? For example:

"Starters - grazing platter of bhuja, cucumber, humous and grapes."

Bhuja for those who don't know (me) are I now realise just snacks from the supermarket. But hey they could be the latest weird ingredient that Yotam Ottolenghi has found.

Or "Starters - Oven-warmed crusty sour dough bread, Ovens Valley olive oil, balsamic vinegar"

Now anyone can do that, but doesn't it sound posh?

Or how about "Entree – A random antipasto sourced from the fridge and cupboard"

Which is most likely what we all do or all we need to do perhaps. Because the world is on our doorstep - on the supermarket shelves.

The terminology of the menus was great - as I say - very tongue-in-cheek, with a huge emphasis on provenance - perhaps this one takes the prize here:

"Hand made lasagna using yard laid eggs from Hillary and Michelle, OOO baker’s flour, free‐range pork and veal mince, organic tomatoes, garden grown spinach"

Although tongue-in-cheek aside I would have to say that all of the menus demonstrate how the message about vegetables, home-grown, healthy, organic, and so on has well and truly taken hold here. Not everyone sent in pictures alas, but here are a couple more in addition to the one at the top of the page:

Posh food? Or everyday food presented in a posh manner? One family said:

"As a joint effort we made a red wine sauce as per Stephanie Alexander’s convoluted recipe. Thanks to whomever for the lovely bottle of wine and to Steve for the excuse to up the standard of our home eating experience."

And what about the wine? Not everyone reported on their wine experience but again the wording was very tongue-in-cheek. Well I do know these people and I know that they are not pretentious, so I suppose I am assuming tongue-in-cheek, no matter how pretentious they may sound:

"As soft and comfortable as your favourite wine club meeting. A velvet texture sets the full, rich flavours off very well. Plush red berry and dark plum fruit, licorice, chocolate and smallgoods notes provide the flavour tapestry. The finish is soft and lightly spicy. One bottle, among friends, was not enough!" (Chapel Hill Shiraz Mourvedre 2020)

"Surprisingly subtle on the nose, given the spice and mixed ambitions of the initial sip ... followed by a scream of "put me back in the cellar for another three years". (Te Kairange Runholder Pinot Noir 2019)

I suppose there was no physical connection on the night - not even via Zoom, but I'm sure that as they all raised a glass they thought of all the other friends and neighbours who were doing the same - and especially those who had given them their surprise bottle of wine. The tragedy sort of is that if they do it again, it won't be as special. It's a sort of home-made Mercers Cooks with you experience. Beautiful food and wine together with dressing up and getting out the best china, cutlery and so on. Not to mention flowers.

I am so sorry I missed it. And alas "I wonder what the poor people are doing?" Although even they could do something similar. Humble ingredients are haute cuisine these days. Bread and cheese anyone?

"food connects us all." Eric Ripert



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